1. You've been a part of the healing and alternative wellness profession for almost three decades. How did you get started in the field of alternative health?
My first profession was music, and that's still a big part of my life. There was a time when I found was I playing way too much commercial music in order to make a living, and it was ruining both my creativity and my enjoyment of music. I decided I needed to do something else to make money, so I could then focus on the music I loved without having financial considerations restricting my choices. At the urging of friends, I enrolled in massage school, The Massage Institute of New England, in 1984. So, my initial motivations were financial—not very glamorous or inspiring, I know!—but it soon became much more than that. While I was at massage school, I found I had an affinity for healing work, and simultaneously had my first significant exposure to taiji.
At that school, I also had my first encounters with energetically-focused bodywork, including Polarity Therapy, Shiatsu, Zero Balancing, and Cranio-Sacral Therapy. That opened up new realms of experience and possibility, and was stimulating and challenging in very satisfying ways. After my first two or three years of work as a massage therapist, I began attracting clients who had significant medical problems, really outside the scope of my practice as a massage therapist, and I decided that if I was to help those people, I needed to learn something more, something deeper and authentically medical. I briefly considered chiropractic, but wasn't personally drawn to that, although I recognize it as a very helpful, valuable healing modality. Since I'd been studying taiji and by then had also branched out into the study of qigong, I had more of an attraction to the Chinese way of approaching health and healing. It was around that time that I met an amazing Chinese qigong doctor, Dr. Cho K. Wong, still perhaps the most evolved healer I've had the privilege to know. I wanted to learn medical qigong from him, but he was not accepting any students. We became friends, though, and I spent a fair amount of time in his company and had many detailed and enlightening conversations with him.
Dr. Wong believed it would require a minimum of ten years' intensive training before I would be able to even begin work as a qigong healer. (He has very high standards!) Taking his learned opinion into account, I decided to enroll in Chinese medical college, studying acupuncture, herbal medicine, tuina (a type of Chinese medical massage therapy), and comprehensive Chinese medical theory. I reasoned that in about four years' time (rather than ten), I'd have a Master of Science Degree in Chinese Medicine (which, in California, meant I also had to have a full western pre-med education), a solid philosophical foundation in theories applicable to medical qigong, and the qualifications to begin helping more people with serious medical problems.
Moving to California in 1990 also gave me the opportunity to study qigong regularly with B.K. Frantzis. Since 1987, I'd been taking some weekend and week-long qigong and tuina workshops in New England with him, but in California, where he lived, I could and did attend weekly classes, numerous weekend workshops, and weeks-long retreats each summer. Dr. Wong recommended him as one of only a handful of people in the US (out of the hundreds he'd met) who he believed was qualified to teach authentic qigong, taiji, bagua, xingyi, and other Daoist practices. Although I've studied with many qigong masters over the years, B.K. Frantzis has been my primary teacher since those days.
That's a rather long answer to your question, but that's what was involved in setting me on my path.
2. Your new book, Chinese Healing Exercises, details 88 exercises based on acupressure, Taiji, Qi Gong, Daoist yoga, and other traditional Chinese health practices. Why did you include such a mixture of practices?
A very good question. Let me give you some background context first, so I can answer it most accurately. Most westerners don't realize that Chinese medicine (including the aspects that are more familiar to westerners, acupuncture and herbal medicine) has many different medical and philosophical underpinnings, different medical models that inform the way it can be practiced. You might have heard of Five Element acupuncture, or TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine), but those are just two of the scores of models through which acupuncture and herbs can be applied. Over the thousands of years that Chinese medicine has evolved, differing models had the official favor of the Chinese government, that is, were favored by specific emperors, and so were developed and practiced extensively during those periods of Chinese history, overshadowing all other models during that time. However, few of those models were ever completely discarded, and most continue to be practiced by their adherents today. For a single patient, in whatever model is chosen, a different diagnosis may be made, and different acupoints and herbs might be selected in accordance with that model, than would be made using a different model. The reason each model is still in use (although in the US the TCM and Five Element models are most prevalent) is that they each have their strong suits, things that one model may do better for one patient or condition than another model. Conversely, the physician may have a stronger connection to one model over others, and make better diagnoses and treatment choices using that model.
Similarly, the physical disciplines from which the exercises in my book are derived—whether martial, medical, or spiritual—have a slightly different set of foci, different objectives, different philosophical foundations. Each has its strong suit, and may approach a physical, emotional, or energetic challenge differently than another system might. This gives the reader a wider base of personal choice, and multiple directions from which to address the same condition or concern, yielding the greatest opportunity for improvement. This is true even for the reader who has no knowledge of taiji, qigong, Daoist Yoga, or any other Chinese healing or martial practice, although people with a deeper understanding of those things can apply these exercises in more specialized ways.
All of those disciplines have their introductory, beginner level practices. The exercises given here are not taiji or qigong, but are preparatory to those practices. The exercises that are in fact acupressure, paidagong, or Daoist Yoga are the simpler introductory aspects of those practices, ones which can be safely and effectively taught in book format without absolutely requiring direct personal guidance from a teacher.
While I've stressed that these are mainly preparatory exercise for other practices, understand that those practices can be extremely demanding physically, psychologically, and energetically. These self-care exercises prepare a body for those demands by opening and strengthening it physically, smoothing it emotionally, and fortifying it energetically, so that a practitioner of those advanced practices may be better able to perform those disciplines. That makes these exercises very useful and powerful as health building practices by themselves, for people engaged in all walks of contemporary life.
3. The 88 exercises in Chinese Healing Exercises can be tailored to each individual and even to address specific health issues. Why is this individualization so important?
There are at least two very key ways to look at that. Since the decoding of the human genome, bioindividuality has become a buzzword even among practitioners of western medicine. Genetic medicines are being developed to target conditions that are specific to people with genetic predispositions that may be entirely different than those of most everyone else. Everyone is unique, having their personal genetic or constitutional make-up and concerns. Without the dubious benefit of modern technology, the Chinese have known this for thousands of years—that bioindividuality is the essence of wholism, where the whole person is treated, and not just the disease—and practiced their medicine accordingly. So, an individualized exercise program can best benefit the individual when their unique health needs are being met, and they are being supported according to their personal constitution. With any exercise, there really is no one-size-fits-all solution. As a simple example using conventional exercise, one person may do well by jogging daily, but another with loose ligaments may readily damage her knees, and another with poor calcium absorption or utilization may get shin splints.
Second, in a very practical way, everyone's conscious, daily needs are different. Someone who primarily has digestive problems probably has very different concerns than someone who has chronic migraine headaches, allergies, menstrual disorders, arthritis, or depression. The physical, psychological, and emotional needs of a single, thirty-year-old office worker may be prioritized differently than those of someone married and in their retirement years. Very few people will be willing or able to do all 88 exercises, but all can select the ones that fit their needs best.
Even at the most basic level, everyone has different time constraints. Someone may feel they only have five or ten minutes a day to devote to self-care. Keeping in mind the first two considerations above, that person can select the two or three exercises that directly address their most crucial concerns. They will get all the benefits those exercises provide in that amount of time. If someone has thirty minutes or more to devote to daily self-care, they can select many more exercises, and get the additional benefits they provide. Practicing five to ten minutes a day is much better than not practicing at all if a person can't commit thirty-sixty minutes to an objective, externally-structured regimen. In this way, everyone can get at least some improvement, based on their individual circumstances.
4. Are there any limitations as to who can do the exercises in the book?
Not really. Almost all the exercises are gentle enough to be practiced by anyone, regardless of age, gender, or level of fitness. Many can be practiced sitting in a chair, and a fair amount of them can even be practiced by someone who is bedridden, or can be readily modified to accommodate such physical restrictions.
In some of the chapters, you'll find that the exercises near the end of the chapter become more challenging, and a person may not be able to do those few exercises. In those cases, there are often simplified versions given as an option, and the reader may be able to do that version. Alternatively, those exercises can be used as a sort of yardstick. While you may not be able to do those today, after your body becomes more open, flexible, healthier, and stronger from practicing the easier exercises, you may be able to do them in a month, or in a few months. That will serve as a great indicator of the benefits you're deriving from practicing the exercises you can do.
5. What do you hope your readers will take away from Chinese Healing Exercises?
As this book may appeal to a wide demographic, I have a wide range of hopes for my readers. I hope that busy people will be encouraged to take at least a little time each day to devote to their self-care. I hope that people who are struggling with health challenges will find significant relief from these healing exercises. I hope that professional health providers will find new useful tools here to both prevent their own potential burn-out and to offer to their patients and clients who want to take a more active role in their own health care. I hope that martial artists and high-performance athletes will find exercises to help them transcend current limits, prevent the likelihood of injury, and recover faster should injury occur.
My hope for everyone is that they will come away with a sense of greater possibilities for better health and an energized life naturally freer of pain, discomfort, or restriction, a deeper appreciation of Chinese holistic practices, and a clearer, more positive and peaceful state of mind.